Fil Fraser, CM, DLitt (Hon)
Fil Fraser has excelled as a broadcaster, journalist, writer, film producer, educator and avid spokesperson for human rights. For five decades, he has played a leading role building a stronger arts and heritage community in Alberta, supporting emerging artists, championing multiculturalism and advocating for social justice.
Felix (Fil) Fraser was born in 1932 in Montreal, Que., of Canadian and Caribbean parentage. He got involved in high school radio because, as he puts it, “I liked to be heard." His formal broadcasting career began with Foster Hewitt’s radio station CKFH in Toronto in 1951. Later, he worked at radio stations in Timmins and Barrie, Ont., Verdun, Que., and in Montreal.
Fil moved to Regina in 1958 and worked in public relations in government and the private sector before founding and publishing, in 1960, the Regina Weekly Mirror, which chronicled the introduction of medicare by the Tommy Douglas government. He was subsequently the Director of Education at the Saskatchewan Bureau on Alcoholism and, in 1965, moved to Edmonton to work in the same capacity with the organization that later became the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission.
In 1969, Fil joined the forerunner of Alberta’s Access TV Network as program director of Canada’s first on-air educational television station. In the early 1970s, he was the co-anchor of CBC Edmonton’s supper hour news and public affairs program and, subsequently, hosted ITV Television’s Fil Fraser Show.
His passion for film led him to produce one of Canada’s most successful feature films, Why Shoot the Teacher in 1976, followed by Marie Anne in 1977 and The Hounds of Notre Dame in 1980. All were award winners, receiving both theatrical and television release. In 1974, Fil helped organize the first Alberta Film Festival, now known as the AMPIA (Alberta Media Production Industries Association) Awards. He chaired the first Commonwealth Games Film Festival in 1978 and founded the Banff International Television Festival the following year. Between 1989 and 1992, Fil served as Chief Commissioner of the Alberta Human Rights Commission and was President and CEO of Vision TV from 1995 to 2000.
Practising what he preached in his commitment to social justice, Fil served on the boards of numerous organizations, locally, provincially and nationally. He has been a director of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra Society, the Alberta Motion Picture Association, the Alberta Performing Arts Foundation and the Edmonton International Film Festival. He has also been governor of the Banff Centre, a member of the University of Alberta Senate and director and vice-chair of the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights in Edmonton. Fil was the founding chair of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Foundation. Nationally, his public service activities included being director of the Canadian Broadcast Museum Foundation, director of the Ontario Heritage Foundation and Chair of the Media Awareness Network.
Over the years, Fil has served the public through various task forces and commissions. He was on the 1977 Alberta Task Force on Film, which recommended the establishment of the Alberta Motion Picture Development Corporation. In 1985, he was appointed to the Federal Task Force on Broadcasting Policy, whose report formed the basis for a new Canadian Broadcasting Act, and was subsequently chosen to be on the Canadian Multiculturalism Council. In 1990, Fil became a member of The Citizens’ Forum on Canada’s Future, a federal Royal Commission also known as the Spicer Commission. Other organizations benefitting from his guidance have included Milestone Radio Inc., Telefilm Canada, CBC Newsworld and Videotron West.
Fil is a consummate writer and teacher. He is the author of Alberta’s Camelot: Culture and the Arts in the Lougheed Years, and Running Uphill – the Fast, Short Life of Canadian Champion Harry Jerome, a biography of the Olympic sprinter which was filmed by the National Film Board, and How the Blacks Created Canada. Fil has written numerous articles for newspapers, magazines and journals. His memoir on Canadian multiculturalism, Black Like Me, appeared in the 100th anniversary issue of Saturday Night Magazine in January 1987.
Fil has taught extension courses on subjects ranging from “Great Religions” and “Great Civilizations” to “Man and Chemical Comforts” at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Alberta. In the 1990s, he taught a course on “The Evolution of Human Rights” to 3rd year Faculty of Law students at the University of Alberta. He is the creator of a graduate course on Canadian film at Athabasca University.
Fil’s lifetime of achievement has led to numerous recognitions. He received an Alberta Achievement Award in 1978 for excellence in filmmaking, was honoured for public service by the Harambee Foundation of Canada in 1989 and became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1991. He was feted by the Black Business and Professional Association in 1999 for excellence in the professions. In 2001, the Canadian Association of Black Journalists created the Fil Fraser Lecture Series honouring his commitment to cultural and social diversity in Canada. In 2005, he was inducted into the Edmonton Cultural Hall of Fame and awarded the Alberta Centennial Medal. In 2012 he received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Fil holds an Honourary Doctor of Literature degree from the University of Alberta.
Fil has been described as an outstanding role model who has enlarged the definition of what it means to be Canadian. His passion for the arts has served as a central motivation throughout his life, and it has in turn served to enrich the lives of his fellow citizens. “No art no life,” he says. “Art decorates our lives. Art makes our lives meaningful. Without the arts, life would be plain and uninspiring and unforgiving.”